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SportsColumnistsBob Glauber

For the Jets, so much hinges on Sam Darnold's development

General manager Mike Maccagnan is enthusiastic about the second-year quarterback's chances to improve under the guidance of new coach Adam Gase.  

Jets quarterback Sam Darnold during the second half

Jets quarterback Sam Darnold during the second half against the Texans at MetLife Stadium on Saturday. Photo Credit: Lee S. Weissman

PHOENIX – There is a lot to like about what the Jets have done this offseason, and the man who made the deals to bring in big-time players Le’Veon Bell, C.J. Mosley, Kelechi Osemele and Jamison Crowder is certainly anxious to see the results of his work this fall.

But what really excites general manager Mike Maccagnan has nothing to do with the more than $100 million worth of guaranteed money dedicated to those and other players. It has to do with the centerpiece addition from last year and the coach in charge of changing the team’s fortunes.

“Amongst all this other stuff we’ve done – and we feel we’re making progress – but I’m as excited to see how Sam works with Adam, frankly, and see how Sam develops.”

Maccagnan is right. In a league driven so extensively by the quarterback and the coach, the Jets will be all about quarterback Sam Darnold and coach Adam Gase.

“To me, that’s going to be the key thing,” Maccagnan told a small group of reporters at the NFL’s spring meetings. “Not to take away from everything else, putting pieces together, I really like all these players. We definitely feel good about things going forward.”

But so much of what the Jets will become revolves around Darnold’s development and whether he can make the jump from promising rookie into reliable veteran who can elevate his team, get to the playoffs and eventually contend for a championship. There are no guarantees, as Jets fans have come to know so painfully in the half century since Joe Namath won the team’s only Super Bowl. But with Darnold, there is at least the hope that he can take all the strides he made last season and transform them into a career worthy of his stature as the No. 3 overall pick of the 2018 draft.

The list of post-Namath quarterbacks wearing green and white has featured some good players and some nearly great players. Had Chad Pennington’s career not been beset by continual shoulder problems – which persist even now, with Pennington coming off a fourth shoulder surgery this spring – there is a chance he might have fulfilled the expectations he inherited. But no one – not Pennington, not Brett Favre, not Vinny Testaverde, or Mark Sanchez, or Richard Todd or Matt Robinson or … aw, you know the names – has been good enough to bring another Lombardi Trophy back to New York.

Darnold may very well end up as another name on the list of close-but-not-close-enough quarterbacks, and there’s no guarantee that the improvement he made last year will be followed up by the quantum leap he must make before being ready to take his team on a championship run. But he’s about as good a prospect as the Jets have had in many years to give them at least a puncher’s chance to end their playoff misery once and for all.

Maccagnan did terrific work last year in moving up to the third pick with the trade with the Colts and then taking advantage of the Giants going with Saquon Barkley to take Darnold, the quarterback the Jets had coveted most of all. There’s no way the Jets were going to make a playoff run with a rookie quarterback, but Darnold’s experience in 2018 will prove invaluable moving forward.

The GM has already done well in back-filling the roster needs, starting with Bell, a highly versatile running back and an important security blanket for any quarterback, especially a young one. Bell’s shifty, between-the-tackles style and his ability to catch passes out of the backfield gives the offense an element it hasn’t had in years. And the signing of slot receiver Jamison Crowder from Washington will give Gase an important player at a key position. Gase is one of the NFL’s best coaches at incorporating his inside receivers, and Crowder is one of the league’s best.

Osemele provides additional blocking for Darnold, who was often under siege last year. And Mosley’s presence provides an immediate upgrade on defense.

Maccagnan has the No. 3 pick in this year’s draft, and he’s made no secret of his desire to move down and acquire picks to replenish other positions, including cornerback. And if he stays where he is, there is the chance to get a defensive star such as Alabama lineman Quinnen Williams or Kentucky edge rusher Josh Allen.

The aggressive start to free agency has certainly put Maccagnan in better position leading up to the draft, and there are plenty of possibilities awaiting in next month’s selection process.

In the end, though, it is the Darnold-Gase partnership that will dictate the direction of the franchise.

So far, Maccagnan likes what he sees.

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